Sure, the shows, bars, and events in cities are fun and all, but many of the small towns in Texas deliver big on charm and entertainment, too.
In Texas, the major metropolises of Austin, Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio each have their individual appeals, but the same holds true for the small towns in Texas you’ll find around the state. From a quaint community in wine country to a ghost town in the desert to a beach retreat on the coast, there are a variety of landscapes, histories, and activities to explore in the quieter corners of the state. Texas isn’t all just cowboys and honky-tonks, after all.
Whether you’re looking for some interesting places to stop by on a road trip or simply want to get away from the stress of big-city living for a while, these are the best small towns in Texas to explore this summer and beyond.
Related read: 12 Unique Places to Stay in Texas
A small town in Texas might not be the first place you think of when dreaming about a wine country getaway, but Fredericksburg should definitely be on your travel bucket list if you love all things pinot and chardonnay.
In the heart of the Hill Country, Fredericksburg is somewhat of a home base for exploring the Texas Wine Country. There are over 40 wineries in the area, and you can either pop into the tasting rooms up and down Main Street or drive out to the many nearby vineyards for some on-site sampling. Book a wine tour if no one wants to skip out on the tasting.
Aside from wine, this charming small town is also known for its boutique shopping, German heritage (evident in many of the restaurants), and the impressive National Museum of the Pacific War.
Related read: The 6 Best Places to See Fall Foliage in Texas
No, it’s not just tumbleweeds out in West Texas. Over the years, Marfa, a small town with around 1,800 residents, has gained popularity as an oasis for art lovers. It boats attractions like the Chinati Foundation (a contemporary art museum located in a former military base) and Ballroom Marfa, an internationally recognized cultural space. Oh, and the Prada shop is nearby, too.
Out here, it’s all about taking things slow and enjoying the expansive Texas landscape (and skies). And speaking of the skies, another one of Marfa’s claims to fame is the mystery of the Marfa lights. People from around the world come out to the designated viewing area off the highway near town to see if they can spot the colorful, dancing lights that others have reported seeing around the horizon. The cool Hotel Pasiano has some interesting Hollywood and ghost history.
Wimberley is one small town with a pair of great attractions: two of the best swimming holes in all of Texas. First, there’s Jacob’s Well, a beautiful spring famous for its complex, underwater cave system. Then there’s the Blue Hole, where you can go for a dip under the shade of towering bald cypress trees. If the weather is good, keep the outdoor fun going with a hike up Old Baldy or a visit to Wimberley Zipline.
Shopping is another popular activity in town, and you’ll find plenty of cute boutiques in the town’s downtown Wimberley Square. One Saturday every month from March to December, vendors set up hundreds of stalls at Wimberley Market Day, the largest outdoor market in the Texas Hill Country.
4. Port Aransas
Port Aransas happens to be the only established town on Mustang Island, a barrier island along Texas’ Gulf Coast. Back in the 1800s, pirates used to roam these parts, but these days, the excitement mostly comes from visiting the beach (there are 18 miles of it) and enjoying all that the water has to offer. There’s surfing, jet skiing, parasailing, paddleboarding, kayaking, and so much more.
Called the “Fishing Capital of Texas,” Port Aransas is an excellent destination for anglers who can fish for redfish, flounder, black drum, and trout in the bay and shallow water, or try for tuna, marlin, kingfish, and more out on an offshore excursion. The town is also great for birdwatchers since it’s located in the Central Flyway, which sees hundreds of different bird species pass through annually.
While you’re here, drive down to Mustang Island State Park for even more outdoor recreation.
Just a few minutes from Big Bend National Park, Terlingua is arguably the most famous “ghost town” in the state. Back in the early 1900s, it was a popular mining town before operations ended and people left in droves around the end of World War II. These days, it’s become a quirky tourist destination, especially for those visiting the national park or going on road trips out west. It has a few residents and a few cheesy shops and art installations, but otherwise, it’s pretty much abandoned.
While you’re here, have a meal at the Starlight Theatre and Saloon and check out the old Terlingua Cemetery to soak up some creepy Old West vibes. If you’re planning your trip for November, you may get a chance to visit the famous Terlingua Chili Cookoff, where thousands of people arrive to witness a battle for the best bowl of red — a.k.a. chili, Texas’ official state dish.
6. Port Isabel
Need some vitamin sea? Head south to Port Isabel, near the Mexico border, for a tropical beach vacation. Here, the average temperature is a nice 80 degrees Fahrenheit, and the shallow drop-off means the water is pretty warm, too.
From Port Isabel, you can join one of the Sea Life Center Dolphin Educational Boat Tours to catch a sight of dolphins out in the wild. You can also drive less than 15 minutes to reach Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge to bike, fish, hike, or see the more than 130 species of butterflies that visit the refuge in October and November.
Make a quick drive in the other direction over the causeway and you’ll be on South Padre Island, a destination popular with spring breakers but also known for its birding and sea turtle rescue. The South Padre KOA has great little cabins on the waterfront. It’s a small town, but there’s lots to do.
Jefferson lies east of Dallas, close to the borders with Arkansas and Louisiana. While the exact date of the town’s founding is up for debate, many point to the early 1840s. Jefferson was an important river port for the state and a critical supply point for the Confederacy during the Civil War.
Modern-day visitors can delve into Jefferson’s history by joining a tour, whether that be on foot, by carriage, on a riverboat, or on the historic railway. For even more learning, you can also pay a visit to the Jefferson Historical Museum. Attractions of note in town include the Excelsior House Hotel (one of the oldest hotels in Texas), Jay Gould’s private rail car, The Grove historical house, and the Jefferson General Store. This is certainly a top small town in Texas for travelers who like US history.
You’ll also be near Caddo Lake State Park, where you can kayak or canoe along miles of paddling trails through the swamps and bayous.
8. Marble Falls
Marble Falls: Come for the nature, stay for the pie. It’s not the official town slogan, but it does give you an idea of what makes this small town, founded in 1887, so special. It’s less than an hour from Austin, making it a great small town Texas day trip if you’re after a change of pace for a weekend.
Since Marble Falls straddles the Colorado River, you can enjoy views of the water and set off on a boat from Johnson Park or Lakeside Park. There’s also Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge nearby for hiking and birdwatching, and Hidden Falls Adventure Park for some off-roading.
Now, on to the pie: Marble Falls is home to the beloved Bluebonnet Cafe, which serves exactly the hearty, homey dishes you’d like to find in a quaint small town. The restaurant has been around since 1929 and is particularly famous for its freshly baked pies.
Outside Fort Worth next to the Brazos River, the town of Granbury was voted as the USA Today Reader’s Choice best historic small town in America in 2019 and 2020. As such, you’ll find dozens of historic buildings, including the Old Opera House from 1886.
During your visit, Granbury’s Historic Square is the place to head to first. It was the first downtown square in Texas to be added to the National Historic Register, and it’s where you’ll find plenty of important landmarks, shops, and restaurants. It’s also where you’ll meet for activities like ghost tours or carriage rides.
Listed in the National Register of Historic Places, Gruene is technically a historic district within the city of New Braunfels. But back in the day, it was a prosperous town settled by German immigrants. With its various historic buildings, it still feels like its own little world and visiting this small Texas town is like a trip back in time.
Of these historic buildings, Gruene Hall is the most famous as is the oldest continually operated dance hall in the whole state. Built in 1878, the 6,000-square-foot venue has hosted a slew of great country musicians, including Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, and George Strait.
There are small towns in Texas, and then there are the downright tiny towns in Texas — Luckenbach is definitely the latter. It’s named after Jacob Luckenbach, a German nobleman and one of the first settlers in the area, and it consists of a general store, a bar, and a dancehall. That’s it.
You may have heard of the town from the hit country song “Luckenbach, Texas (Back to the Basics of Love)” by Waylong Jennings. In fact, the main reason to swing by Luckenbach is to catch some live country music, and shows are hosted throughout the year.
While there’s technically nowhere to stay in Luckenbach, Fredericksburg is just a 15-minute drive away.
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